Madhuravani (Samantha) and photographer Anthony (Vijay Deverakonda) are handed the job of writing a report on Savitri (Keerthy Suresh) remaining in coma since a year. But after a press conference with Gemini Ganeshan (Dulquer Salmaan), the duo believes there’s more to Savitri’s story than anyone knows.
To call ‘Nadigayar Thilakam’ a celebration of Savitri’s life would be an understatement, because the film breathes her life in a span of almost 3 hours. There are few films in the Telugu film industry that make you feel the way this one does – empathise and fall head over heels in love with the protagonist even in her lowest of lows.
When Madhuravani, a journalist in the 80s, approaches an acquaintance of the Mahanati and tells him her generation knows nothing of Savitri other than the fact that she was once a great star, the same holds true for this generation too. And that is how the tale of ‘Nadigayar Thilakam’ begins.
More than a retelling, this film is a character study on the kind of person Savitri was. Few know how innocent and young she was when she married an already wedded Ganeshan out of love, despite many calling her a home-breaker. Few also know how kind she was even to strangers, free to give away her earnings to those in need.
When she was alive, Savitri was branded as a home-breaker and an alcoholic who ruined her life and this film tries to explain why her life could’ve come to be that way.
Innocent and childish, a stubborn but kind hearted Savitri (Keerthy) moves in as a child with her widowed mother to her uncle and aunt’s (Rajendra Prasad and Bhanupriya) home. Pushed to learn dance and later theatre by her uncle who finds there’s money in it, Savitri’s only solace is her friend Susheela (Shalini Pandey) and a stone idol she turns to when she misses her father. The story thereafter filled with beauty, love, greed, jealousy and backstabbing is one that retro films are made of. Unfortunately for Savitri, this is what her life was like.
The music by Mickey J Meyer blends into the story beautifully, creating the mood in many scenes. Keerthy just blends into the skin of Savitri and a few moments into the film, one almost forgets how heart-breaking the ending will be like. Bursting with life and later fading away to death, this has to be one of Keerthy’s best performances till date. She is ably supported by Dulquer playing Gemini Ganeshan, a man whose intentions are never truly known. You fall for his charms and believe him as much as she does when he calls her ‘ammadi’, and your heart breaks probably as much as hers did when he turns the tables on her out of jealously for her thriving career even as his fortunes fade.
That’s not to say the film is a dreary one all through because despite the ending, one will chuckle along with Savitri when she shares funny moments with Akkineni Nageswara Rao (Naga Chaitanya) on the sets of ‘Devadas’ and even before. Or even when she secretly shadows SV Ranga Rao (Mohan Babu) on the sets of ‘Mayabazar’ so she can learn his mannerisms and ace her performance in the song ‘Aha Na Pelli Anta’.
Samantha and Vijay Deverakonda, apart from the rest of the cast, are stupendous in their roles, not for a minute taking the attention away from the character they’re portraying. Samantha acing an emotional scene almost at the end of the film makes one remember the potential she has, the powerhouse of talent she really is. Nag Ashwin deserves all the credit as he has done a stupendous job. The film’s cinematography by Dani Sanchez-Lopez too is truly a beauty, bringing in a sepia toned old-school feel, as if shot on a film camera.
Watching ‘Nadigayar Thilakam’ is an experience one won’t forget soon as it will make you walk away with a heavy heart, mourning for a great artiste whose life was wasted and lost. Tears will be shed, claps will be heard, goose bumps will be felt – all in reverence and in tribute to the Mahanati. But the best part about this film is, it will make you smile, because Savitri deserves to be remembered for more than just the tragedy in her life, she deserves to be remembered for the beautiful soul she was.